Initiative helps dementia carers train in empathy

31 March 2011 Last updated at 02:37


Initiative helps dementia carers train in empathy

 By Anna-Marie Lever Health reporter, BBC News

Trying dementia: a workshop of blindfolds and fast eating

A new training initiative is helping dementia carers empathise with those they look after.

Goggles that distort vision, gloves that reduce the sense of touch, and loud white noise – just three things which create a sense of frustration, confusion and loss of control.

By evoking the feelings of what it might be like to have dementia, those at the workshop are able to reflect on how best to care for people with the condition.

Maizie Mears-Owen, a mental health nurse and drama therapist, developed the training: “I find I learn much better if I can experience something rather than sitting and taking notes. I absorb it and it stays with me longer.

“From the beginning of the workshop I create confusion and frustration and get the staff to really understand and walk in the shoes of those who have dementia.

“We provide good dementia care in our homes but we wanted to take it to the next level and build on what we already do.”

Care UK, a health and social care services provider, has piloted this scheme in nine of its care homes. They hope to roll out the training across the UK in the future.

Learning through play

Communication game in dementia carer training workshop Communication overload – the training uses games which make it hard to concentrate

The workshop starts with communication games, where staff are constantly asked questions and distracted by loud noises while trying to read a newspaper.

The training then simulates a meal time. To give the sense of older age, the carer wears gloves to restrict mobility, and goggles to mimic a visual impairment. They are then fed cereal very fast by a colleague. The situation is taken to the extreme so the carer experiences loss of control and what it might be like to be supported.

One carer who has undertaken the workshop is Jeni Beck, home manager at Appleby House in Surrey.

She said: “It made me feel sick and I didn’t really want to eat. Because it was fast I didn’t know when the spoon was coming, it was quite frightening.

“It gives you much greater awareness of what someone with dementia has to battle with on a daily basis and a better understanding of how to approach somebody.

“It reinforces that you need to communicate all the time and slowly, always telling the resident what you are doing – making sure your sentences are clear and that you are talking to the individual and not over them.”


About 750,000 people in the UK have dementia – and with the numbers projected to rise to more than a million by 2021, more and more people will need good care.

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“Start Quote

There then needs to be a strategy to put that learning into practise.” ”

End Quote Louise Lakey Alzheimer’s Society

Louise Lakey, policy manager at the Alzheimer’s Society, says that it is extremely important carers experience dementia.

“Once a carer understands, they can act on that and embed it within their work.

“These types of initiatives are helpful as many professional carers say they find providing dementia care challenging – but they want to do their job well. Experiencing dementia helps them understand a person’s needs and wants. There then needs to be a strategy to put that learning into practice.”

Hearing from people with dementia is one of the most effective ways the Alzheimer’s Society has found to help carers experience the disease.

“The strong emotional testimonies make a real impact,” says Ms Lakey.

Two thirds of care home residents have dementia, as do a quarter of hospital patients aged over 65. Given these high numbers, the majority of carers will work with someone who has the condition, and the Alzheimer’s Society believes training should be mandatory.

At the end of last year, The Nursing and Midwifery Council announced that future nursing students will now need to have training in cognitive behaviour. This will help them better support patients with dementia.

Currently the care between different providers varies considerably. However, with improvements in mandatory training and initiatives to experience dementia, care for those who are most vulnerable should improve.